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Pay Tribute on Memorial Day

Memorial DayFrom Civil War battlefields to the beaches of Normandy -- from the deserts in Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan -- American men and women have sacrificed their lives to protect our freedoms and to advance the ideals of the United States of America. On Memorial Day we are called to remember them and to take time to properly reflect on their sacrifices.

On Monday while we enjoy the comforts of home; the joys of leisure and fair weather; as well as the company of our families, friends and loved ones, it is important that take time to pay tribute to all of the brave men and women who have given the last full measure of devotion to the United States of America while defending and protecting the liberties we hold dear.

Investing in Infrastructure Creates Jobs

Fix Our BridgesFor too many years legislative inaction and budgetary underfunding has allowed our transportation infrastructure to fall into disrepair and to undermine our state’s economic vitality. Pennsylvania has more structurally deficient bridges than any other state and an estimated 22.8 million vehicles cross those deficient bridges every day.

We need to address this problem now because further delay only adds dangers to public safety and costs to the taxpayers of this state.

On Friday, June 1 at 11:00 a.m., I will join my colleague State Senator John Yudichak as well as Senate Democratic leaders at a news conference in Luzerne County to discuss the details of the Senate Democratic Caucus’ infrastructure investment plan.

Our plan involves creative new solutions to leverage existing federal, state and private resources in support of $2.8 billion in new infrastructure investment that will not only create thousands of jobs for Pennsylvanians in the short term, but that will add to our economic vitality and competitiveness in the long run.

At the core of our plan is the creation of a new tax incentive program that would fund $1.5 billion in water, sewer and public transit infrastructure improvements. Our plan would also use federal GARVEE bonds to generate $1 billion to fund a short term transportation improvement plan.

Another facet of our plan will refocus $167 million now available through the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) to make infrastructure investments for new commercial and industrial real estate development that can serve to attract new business as well as support in- state business expansion while financing more small business loans and new venture capital incentives.

Finally, the Senate Democratic infrastructure investment plan will sustain the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) program to invest $60 million through our major academic research institutions for life science research and development.

Pennsylvania – and especially Northeastern Pennsylvania – needs jobs.  Investing in transportation and other public works infrastructure can provide them.

CapitolState Budget Update

The Pennsylvania Senate took an important step in the annual state budgeting process by adopting a revision to Governor Corbett’s 2012-13 spending plan.

Senate Bill 1466 makes key restorations to basic and higher education, human services programs, hospitals, and services for our neediest and most vulnerable citizens.  Our colleagues in the Senate have heard our message and included many of our Democratic caucus budget priorities in this proposal. This is the first step of many in the budget process and this spending plan moves us forward in crafting a budget plan that significantly reflects the priorities of Pennsylvanians.   This is why it is important for your voices to be heard.

The release by Independent Fiscal Office of its independent preliminary estimate of the fiscal condition of Pennsylvania indicated that the projected shortfall would be considerably less than that as reported by the Governor during his budget presentation earlier this year.  This revealed that Pennsylvania has additional money to work with during these budget negotiations to restore some funding.

On May 9, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1466.  SB 1466, which I supported, is the General Appropriations bill for the 2012-13 fiscal year.  It restores a total of $650 million to the budget that was cut in the governor’s original plan. The revised $27.656 billion budget plan represents a 1.8 percent increase over the current fiscal year, and remains a lower spending level than fiscal years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11.   SB 1466 restores key funding without raising taxes or incurring any new debt.

While the budget is not yet final, our Senate restorations are a good starting point.   I am encouraged that SB 1466 provides for restorations or increases in several critical areas:

Early Childhood/Basic Education:

  • Provides $50 million for the Accountability Block Grants that were zeroed out in the Governor’s proposal. These grants are used by school districts for kindergarten and pre-school programs, as well as for after school tutoring programs.
  • Restores $50 million for Basic Education Funding.
  • A restoration for the Pre-K Counts Program to the 2011-12 level of $82.784 million.
  • Head Start Supplemental Assistance will also be restored to the 2011-12 level of $37.278 million.
  • This budget plan would reverse the Administration’s attempt to combine various public education line items into one general allocation which many school districts have expressed would complicate their fiscal obligations.
  • Provides $50 million for distressed schools.

 Higher Education:

  • Restores $245 million in funding to the state’s 18 state-supported higher education colleges The Governor’s original budget proposed a cut of $253 million to these institutions.
  • Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) will receive an allocation of $8 million of additional funds for grants for students.
  • Furthermore, Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln have indicated that if their level funding is maintained, they will keep tuition hikes low if one is needed at all.

Human Services:

  • Restores $84 million to the budget for county human services programs. The Governor originally proposed a $168 million, or 20 percent cut.
  • The budget would add $10 million for persons with disabilities.
  • $35 million for hospitals and nursing homes would be restored.
  • Several non profit causes have been addressed under this revised budget including funding for poison control centers, hemophilia and epilepsy.

Sen. BlakeThe Senate Democratic Caucus has played an active role in advocating for our budget priorities and we have been strong advocates for the people we represent.  I believe our Senate version of the budget represents a step forward by alleviating a significant amount of financial stress from our world-class higher education institutions, cash-strapped school districts and, most importantly, from our human service providers. 

There are, however, still significant and substantial adjustments that need to be addressed prior to enacting the final spending plan for FY 2012-13. These include level funding for The Commonwealth Medical College; increasing funding to our critically important Regional Cancer Centers; and dedicating more state resources to local government, economic development and job creation programs under the Department of Community and Economic Development.

Senate Bill 1466 is now in the House for consideration. I encourage you to continue to reach out to the Governor as well as to House members to voice your concerns and let them you’re your priorities.

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that the legislature enact a balanced state budget before July 1 each year.

Stay Connected

For updates on this and other legislative initiatives, stay in touch with me on the Internet through my website or on Facebook. Facebook

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